Smart Columbus looks to draw the community into creating transportation of the future.

It wasn't that long ago—late 2009 and early 2010—that nearly 2,000 business and community leaders were invited to immerse themselves in Columbus' economic development potential in an interactive exercise in a Downtown skyscraper.

Columbus 2020 emerged from that Gallery Walk hosted by the Columbus Partnership in an unused former law library in the Huntington Building.

Now the Partnership is preparing to seek similar community engagement in a new Gallery Walk—this one devoted to possibilities borne of the $50 million in grants won a year ago in the US Department of Transportation's Smart City Challenge.

“Smart Is Just the Start” is one of the inspirational themes visitors will encounter in two-hour facilitated walk-throughs of the Partnership's latest Gallery Walk in the Idea Foundry in Franklinton. Partnership members got the first tours in their May 16 meeting. Invitations will be going out to other community and business leaders and their companies to schedule Gallery Walk tours on Tuesdays from July through the end of the year, says Jordan Davis, the Partnership's director of smart cities.

Floor-to-ceiling banners—some soaring 16 feet high—are hung in the expansive Idea Foundry space, inviting visitors to imagine Columbus' future as a global leader in transportation innovation.

It is not a foreign concept. Partnership President and CEO Alex Fischer likes to remind people that Columbus was the buggy-making capital of the world just a century ago, before Henry Ford's assembly line revolutionized transportation and knocked Columbus out of that space in less than 10 years.

The Gallery Walk banners suggest new themes are joining the city's brand of being open and smart—elements such as mobile, human, data-driven, tech-savvy and sustainable. They make a strong case for why Columbus is the perfect test market for modeling transportation of the future and go on to identify building blocks that will reimagine mobility.

Aggressive economic development goals were created for Columbus 2020 in the previous Gallery Walk, and the aspirations for what Smart Columbus will mean to this region are just as lofty.

“I am so bullish and confident now on the future of Smart Columbus,” says Mayor Andrew Ginther, that he doesn't blink at a goal of related investments totaling $1 billion by 2020. “I see that as very realistic. It's aggressive but realistic, and I think we're going to get there.”

Columbus 2020 Chief Economic Officer Kenny McDonald began seeing payoffs almost as soon as it was announced in June 2016 that USDOT had chosen Columbus over 77 other cities to receive $40 million to create a transportation model for the future. Another $10 million prize comes from Microsoft cofounder Paul G. Allen's Vulcan Inc. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the process.

“The efforts not only with Smart Columbus but the Smart (Mobility) Corridor along the Route 33 corridor and at Ohio State and even more broadly across Ohio are opening up opportunities for us in economic development that we wouldn't have seen quite as quickly,” McDonald says.

The Smart Mobility Corridor, 35 miles of limited-access highway between Dublin and East Liberty, is being fitted with high-capacity fiber optic cable to link researchers and traffic monitors with data from wireless sensors embedded along the roadway.The objective is to test smart transportation technologies across an urban and rural stretch that sees up to 50,000 vehicles per day, aligning with Smart Columbus initiatives.

“The interest of companies from around the world in the Smart Cities effort was not unexpected, but it is quite overwhelming to see literally companies from around the world—some of the very best companies—reaching out, wanting to know how they can do things here and be involved,” McDonald adds.

For many, the Gallery Walk will be their first opportunity to really understand what Smart Columbus could mean for the city and for their own professional and personal interests.

“The big component of making us successful is that the business community participates in driving this culture change and then realizing some of the potential of adoption in electric vehicles and in other mobility options and advanced technology deployment,” Davis says.

A 10-point activation plan has been developed to help area businesses and organizations find ways to support the progress of Smart Columbus. Options range from adding electric and autonomous vehicles to corporate fleets to offering employees incentives for using transportation alternatives that don't involve driving personal cars to work.

The more than 50 companies that are Partnership members are asked to take the lead in adopting elements of the activation plan. Others in the community will be encouraged to connect where it makes the most sense for them and their businesses, Davis says.

The menu of options for corporate engagement includes a core five, plus another five acceleration opportunities, Davis says.

Partner With Us

Participate in an executive briefing at the Columbus Idea Foundry to learn more about Smart Columbus and identify a leader from your company to serve as the single point of contact for your Smart City engagement.

Following internal briefings in June, community members will be invited or can go online to schedule Gallery Walk briefings from July through the end of the year, Davis says.

Model the Way

Buyan electric vehicle for yourself to help us reach our electric vehicle adoption goals as part of the Vulcan grant.

The Partnership has promised that its members and their companies will buy at least 50 electric vehicles. Partnership Chair Les Wexner of L Brands already has his electric vehicle, and other Partnership members are following suit, Davis says.

Inspire Others

Lead a Smart Mobility campaign inside of your company to educate associates on the future of mobility and how they can support Smart Columbus today.

IGS Energy has committed to host what Davis says will be “a ride-and-drive road show … kind of a popup experience.” Educational displays and a variety of electric vehicles—maybe even an autonomous vehicle—will be on hand for employees to experience and learn “what an electrified future in the transportation system might mean to the future of energy that's related to their industry,” Davis explains.

“We look to do about 30-50 of those a year until 2020 as part of the grant program.”

Incentivize Adoption

Incentivize employees to drive electric vehicles or commute to work by alternative modes, such as by offering an employee benefit toward ride-sharing services, public transit or purchasing an electric vehicle.

Rather than provide a parking benefit to staff, as some companies do, the Partnership with Columbus 2020 is developing a model in which their own 30 employees will get a monthly stipend toward alternative travel modes such as COTA, the city's CoGo Bike Share or Car2Go, Davis says. The idea is to develop even more systems “so people don't have to always take their car to work; there are other viable ways to get around,” Davis says.

Commit to Electric

Aggressivelyinstall electriccar charging stations on your corporate campus in preferred locations for associates to use.

OCLC was moved to install two electric vehicle charging stations at its Dublin headquarters after a dinner with the Partnership and Columbus 2020. “They were surprised that instantly they were filled. Associates were charging there the very next day they became live,” Davis says. She adds that onsite charging stations can be a valued employee benefit and encourage people to drive electric, especially if they are in “a more preferred parking location, like closer to the entrance.”

Create Collective Innovation

Let us work with you and in collaboration with other companies to bring new mobility solutions to market that will ease congestion and improve quality of life.

Nationwide Children's Hospital and JP Morgan Chase could benefit by developing and sharing efficient transportation solutions, Davis says. The hospital runs shuttles to move employees between parking and work locations, “and that's not their core business; they want to be taking care of patients,” she notes. Meanwhile, Chase could house 13,000 employees at its Polaris campus but can't fully utilize its space because it has parking for just 11,000, Davis says.

Share Your Data and Make It Happen

Share relevant anonymous data with us to include on the integrated data exchange that empowers residents to use the data they're creating to solve challenges and develop Smart Cities solutions.

“We will be developing, with one of our grant programs, an integrated data exchange. It's an open data platform that takes anonymous data and puts it in one location. This is the heartbeat of everything we do from a Smart City perspective,” Davis says. The IDE could include public data from streetlight operations and traffic congestion, along with private data such as corporate parking and employee commute patterns. Data would be “anonymized and secure; we're not asking them to give us proprietary data,” Davis says. Such a rich database could enable creative mobility solutions not otherwise possible, she explains.

Commit Technical Resources

Loan technical experts and relevant thought leaders from your company to the Smart Columbus teamto weigh in on the planning and deployment of the grant programs.

Companies are encouraged to loan Smart Columbus “a high-performing, high-potential engineer or data analyst” for maybe 10 hours a month to work on projects or teams, Davis says. They could potentially work on one of the deployment programs, allowing Smart Columbus to capture the best and brightest technical experts from private companies to enhance performance of Smart Columbus overall.

Ben Blanquera, the Columbus Collaboratory vice president of delivery and experience, is co-chairing development of the integrated data exchange. “This is beyond what he does on a day-to-day basis, but the Columbus Collaboratory has seen it as a strategically important thing, and they're using their expertise for the good of the community,” Davis says.

Also, Ohio State is making some faculty members available to help with deployment projects. “None of our grant money will go to fund any of their research, but they're experts, so we want them at the table when we're building this out so that we can have some integrity and some assurance that we're cutting edge on what we're doing,” Davis adds.

Establish Sustainable Policies

Articulate a measurable sustainability policy for your company that we can count toward our region's overallgreenhouse gas reduction efforts that we are tying to the Vulcan Grant.

Efforts by American Electric Power to “put more renewable energy on the grid” will help reach decarbonization goals, but the Partnership wants to know what other companies are doing to “adopt smarter operational practices from an energy standpoint,” Davis says.

Align Your Plans to the Future

Help us become the model for connected cities of the future and reach our goal of $1 billion in aligned investment by 2020. Assess your operations and identify what you may be doing that aligns and supports the mission of Smart Columbus.

Part of the way Smart Columbus will reach its goal of a $1 billion “acceleration fund” invested for transportation transformation by 2020 is to aggregate efforts of businesses and organizations across the region.

“There's this whole concept within the grant of becoming a living laboratory, so we want to test and pilot how people and goods can better move with all these new technologies,” Davis says. “If a company is thinking about what can they do within their corporate fleet to become more energy-efficient within their logistics operations, we could bring in experts to consult with their fleet teams about what they can do to be more efficient, so whether that's them converting their fleet to CNG or putting electric vehicles into a light-duty fleet, we can count all of that toward our acceleration fund because that's moving us forward in alignment.”

Fischer says Smart Columbus is a tipping point that “gives us the right to play on one of the most exciting national stages in a world that we all know is changing so rapidly, in which everything that George Jetson talked about and we all dreamed about is truly coming true, and rapidly so.”

Maybe not the flying cars of the 1960s Jetsons TV series, but Smart Columbus certainly aims to ride technology to a more efficient, more environmentally friendly future for moving people and products.

Mary Yost is the editor.